The ultimate guide to preparing your property to let - Total Landlord Insurance

April 26, 2023
The ultimate guide to preparing your property to let - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Preparing your property to rent out involves investing time, effort and money. But it’s well worth making sure everything is in place from the outset.

This will help you to attract the right tenants, avoid any issues after they move in and maximise the return on your investment.

Getting everything in place ready to let a property can seem like a huge task and a legal minefield, so we’ve put together this guide covering all the essential points. There are over 168 laws, with in excess of 400 rules and regulations to let a property. If you are new to this, it is worth considering using a qualified letting agent, making sure they have the legally required client money protection through a government approved scheme such as Client Money Protect, and are members of a government approved redress scheme such as the HFIS group’s Property Redress Scheme

Before you let, do read our two ultimate guides which will help you to be compliant with all the lettings laws and regulations on taxes for UK landlords. 

It’s also important to be aware that letting in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be very different. This information is mostly for England, so if  you are letting elsewhere, please check for differences in other countries.

From landlords’ key legal responsibilities to carrying out repairs and what to include in a welcome pack, you’ll find it all here:

  • What are the legal responsibilities of a landlord?
  • Gas safety regulations for landlords
  • Electrical safety regulations for landlords
  • Fire safety regulations for landlords
  • Risk assessment for legionella
  • Energy Performance Certificate requirements for landlords
  • Right to rent check requirements for landlords with property in England
  • Tenancy deposit protection requirements for landlords
  • The ‘How to rent’ checklist
  • Repairs - what are the landlord’s responsibilities?
  • What do HMO landlords need to know when preparing their property to rent?
  • HMO fire regulations
  • New Fire Safety Regulations for multi-occupied buildings from 23 January 2023
  • Repairs – what are the landlord’s responsibilities?
  • Treating damp and mould
  • Decorating tips for landlords
  • The importance of cleaning your rental property
  • Preparing the garden in a rental property
  • The importance of preparing a tenant welcome pack
  • Arranging landlord insurance

You can find the basic rules, guidance and support on how to rent out a property and your legal responsibilities as a landlord in the GOV.UK guide, ‘Renting out your property’.

Whether you’re preparing to let your first property or are a seasoned landlord, it’s important to remember that you’re running a business and you’ll need a business plan. You can download our business plan template for landlords, which includes a rental property expenses checklist, in our guide: ‘How to make the right business plan (and become a better landlord)’.

What are a landlord’s legal responsibilities when preparing a property to let?

As a landlord, your main responsibility is to keep your rental property safe and free from health hazards. This involves making sure that the property is in a safe and liveable condition in line with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. You must carry out repairs promptly and make sure that any gas or electrical systems meet specified safety standards. You can read more about how to rent a safe home in our article.

Local councils use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to assess whether properties in their area are safe for the people who live there. It’s important to be aware that if you fail to maintain your property in a good enough condition, your local council could fine you up to £30,000 without having to take you to court! Find out more about landlord fines and how to avoid them in our blog.

Here are the specific landlord obligations that you must make sure you comply with in order to legally let your property to a tenant:

  1. Gas safety regulations for landlords

If you’re letting a property with gas appliances in it, you have three main legal responsibilities:

  1. Having an annual gas safety check carried out on each appliance and flue by a Gas Safe registered engineer
  2. Maintaining a record of Gas Safety certificates and providing your tenants with copies as required – including giving new tenants a copy of the current certificate before the tenancy begins
  3. Carrying out the necessary maintenance and repairs to make sure the gas pipework, flues and appliances remain in a safe condition

If a tenant refuses to allow access for gas inspections, it’s important to bear in mind that this is their home and you can’t enter the property without their agreement. For guidance on what you should do if this happens, read our article, How to gain access for a landlord gas safety inspection’.

Failure to comply with gas safety regulations means putting your tenants’ lives at risk and carries harsh penalties, so it’s vital you get this right.

Find out more in our Ultimate guide to gas safety and landlord gas safety certificates.

  1. Electrical safety regulations for landlords

Landlords in England must make sure that the property’s electrical system and all electrical equipment supplied to tenants is safely installed and maintained throughout the tenancy.

The full electrical installation must be inspected and tested by a qualified and competent person, at least every five years – sooner if it was recommended in the previous report. As with the gas safety certificate, a copy of the current Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) must be given to new tenants before they move in.

You can find out more about electrical safety standards in the private rented sector and landlords’ responsibilities at GOV.UK. You can also read more in our guide, ‘Why you need a landlord electrical safety certificate' and find out about the regulations in other parts of the UK in our ‘Legislation for landlords’ guide.

  1. Fire safety regulations for landlords

As a landlord, you are legally obliged to provide suitable fire safe accommodation. So, before you let a property, you should carry out a fire risk assessment – a careful analysis of the property, looking at potential risks and considering issues such as access to escape routes should a fire break out.

It is then your legal responsibility to:

  • Fit and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms: one smoke alarm on each floor of the property and a CO alarm in any room with a solid fuel-burning appliance or a gas or oil-fired boiler
  • Make sure all furniture and furnishings supplied are fire safe and bear manufacturers’ labels confirming the relevant requirements have been met – usually these will be ‘match’ and ‘cigarette’ test labels
  • Although fire extinguishers are only obligatory in multi-occupancy buildings, you may wish to provide one regardless of your property type

There are then additional fire safety regulations for multi-occupied buildings, e.g. an HMO or a flat in a purpose-built block. For details, see the next section: ‘What do HMO landlords need to know when preparing their property to rent?’.

You can find out more in our ‘Ultimate guide to fire safety regulations for landlords’,  which includes a downloadable fire risk assessment template.

  1. Risk assessment for legionella

Legionella bacteria can form where the water temperature is between 20 and 45 degrees celsius and certain nutrients are present. In homes, that could be in water storage units or any other man-made hot or cold water systems.

If the bacteria is inhaled, it can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially very serious type of pneumonia which can be fatal, so it’s vital that you make sure your tenants aren’t exposed.

Although landlords have a duty to assess the risk of exposure to legionella, the Health and Safety Executive states that it doesn’t require an in-depth, detailed assessment.

If a property is occupied, the risk is low, as the hot and cold water are used regularly, which keeps the supply moving. And if your rental has electric showers and a combination boiler, the risk is even lower, as water isn’t being stored.

Key steps you can take to minimise the risk of legionella bacteria forming:

  • Flush the system between lets
  • Have any redundant pipework removed
  • If you have a hot water cylinder, make sure the water is stored at 60°C.
  • Check the water temperature during property inspections

  1.  Energy Performance Certificate requirements for landlords

Under the Domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard Regulations (MEES), all privately rented properties must achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E or above in order to be legally let. A copy of the EPC must be given to tenants before their tenancy begins.

Note that this minimum standard is scheduled to rise to C in 2028, so if your property is currently rated D or below, you need to start looking now at how you can improve its energy efficiency.

See our 'Ultimate guide to having an eco friendly property’ for more information and advice.

  1. Right to rent checks for landlords with property in England

Before the start of a new tenancy, you must check all prospective tenants aged 18 or over can legally rent residential property if it’s in England, by carrying out Right to rent checks. This applies to anyone living in the property, even if they’re not named on the tenancy agreement, e.g. family members or carers.

It’s important to be aware that if you fail to make right to rent checks and someone is found to be living illegally in the country, you can be fined and, in the most serious cases, could even face a prison sentence. 

See the government website for how to carry out the checks on both non-UK nationals and British and Irish applicants.

You can also find out about right to rent checks in our ultimate guide to right to rent checks.

  1. Tenancy deposit protection requirements for landlords

If you’re preparing to rent out your house on an assured shorthold tenancy that started after 6 April 2007, you must protect your tenant’s deposit in a one of the government approved tenancy deposit protection schemes, such as mydeposits, which is part of the HFIS group. You can either:

  • Transfer the deposit monies to the scheme (custodial)
  • Keep hold of the deposit monies and take out insurance with the scheme (insured)

You (or your letting agent) must register your tenant’s deposit with a scheme within 30 days of getting it.

  1. The ‘How to rent’ rental property checklist

It’s mandatory for landlords to provide the latest version of the Government’s ‘How to rent’ checklist when a tenancy starts, and on renewal if there have been any updates to the contents.

The checklist is designed to help tenants and landlords understand their rights and responsibilities and offers advice on what to look out for before renting, living in a rented home, the process at the end of the tenancy and what to do if something goes wrong.

You can either email this to your tenant or provide a hard copy – but if you choose to give them a hard copy, make sure you download it directly from the government website so you can be sure it’s the latest version.

If you either don’t supply the checklist to your tenant or you give them an outdated version, any Section 21 eviction notice you subsequently serve could be declared invalid.

  1. Repairs - what are the landlord’s responsibilities?

Landlords must make sure their rented homes are fit to live in at the start of a tenancy and remain in good condition for the duration of the let. To find out exactly what this means for you and your property, check out our guide, Are you compliant with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018?’.

When preparing to let your property, it’s important to make sure that it meets the required legal safety standards, which may mean you have to carry out repairs before you are able to rent it out. If this is the case, it’s well worth doing a thorough job while the property is empty, as making major repairs once tenants are in situ is far less convenient.

As a landlord you are responsible for: 

  • Repairs to the property’s structure and exterior - including problems with the roof, chimneys, walls, guttering and drains.
  • Making sure the equipment for supplying water, gas and electricity is kept in safe working order
  • Maintaining basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary fittings in working order
  • Making sure there is adequate heating and hot water – find out more in our guide, ‘Boilers, heating and hot water: What are landlords’ legal responsibilities?’
  • Anything you damage through attempting repairs

Be aware that damp and mould are a particularly common cause of issues, both during and at the end of tenancies. So, it’s important to take steps to prevent these problems occurring when preparing your property to rent, and to also help your tenants do all they can to prevent damp and mould. See our separate guide, ‘Identify and prevent damp, mould and condensation in your property’, which includes a downloadable checklist to share with your tenants.

For more information on repairs, take a look at our ‘Guide to landlords’ and tenants’ property repair responsibilities’.

And you can find a comprehensive round-up of all the legal requirements that landlords have to comply with, before and during a tenancy, in our guide: ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’.

What do HMO landlords need to know when preparing their property to rent?

Your property is defined as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) if both of the following apply:

  • At least three tenants live there, forming more than one household
  • Toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities are shared

The legal regulations around HMOs are more complex than for properties let to a single household. And with the Government trying to raise standards in HMO properties, it’s increasingly likely that your HMO will need to be licensed. As it stands currently, any HMO with five or more occupants falls under mandatory national licensing requirements.

We’d suggest that if you intend to let any property as an HMO, you speak to your local authority, as they have the power to impose their own licence conditions, and these can vary from one area to another. Be aware that it’s a criminal offence not to have an HMO licence if one is required.

You can find out more about the specific rules relating to HMOs on GOV.UK and in our guide, ‘The complete guide to letting an HMO property’.

HMO fire regulations

It’s particularly important when preparing an HMO property for rent that landlords are fully aware of fire legislation, which is much more stringent for HMOs.

For example, it’s a legal requirement in an HMO to have:

  • Interconnected, mains powered smoke alarms – one on each floor and one in each individual ‘unit’ (e.g. bedroom or bedsit)
  • A heat alarm and fire blanket in the kitchen
  • At least one fire extinguisher on each floor
  • Fire doors to protect escape routes

The Fire Safety Advice Centre has a list of the specific fire safety requirements for HMOs, but it’s worth asking a local fire safety office to visit your property and give you bespoke advice on the measures you should be taking to make sure you comply with the law and your tenants are kept as safe as possible.

New fire safety regulations for multi-occupied buildings from 23 January 2023

In addition to the fire safety measures above, new legislation came into force in January 2023 for all multi-occupied buildings. That’s any property that contains two or more domestic premises, with common parts (e.g. hallway or stairwell) that residents would need to pass through to exit the building in case of an emergency – e.g. HMOs and flats in blocks.

For flats in buildings that are over 11 metres in height, the regulations are highly complex, and you should seek specialist advice. But for HMOs and flats where the building is four storeys and/or less than 11 metres, the new rules are relatively straightforward:

A ‘Responsible Person’ must be appointed for the building - this can be an individual or an organisation, such as the managing landlord or agent, or the residents’ management company. This person is responsible for carrying out certain duties relating to fire safety:

  • Displaying fire safety instructions in a conspicuous part of the building
  • Providing information to building residents about fire doors, particularly individual flat entrance doors

Full information on duties of the Responsible Person can be found on the government website. And to find out more about the new fire safety regulations and other changes that apply to multi-occupied properties under the Building Safety Act 2022, see our separate guide, Cladding and the Building Safety Act 2022: What do landlords need to know? 

Decorating tips for landlords

Decorating a property for rental is quite different from decorating your own home. When preparing to rent out your house, you should aim to create a blank canvas that prospective tenants will be able to visualise stamping their own mark on.

And the better your property looks, the more likely it is you’ll attract a good tenant that’s prepared to pay a bit more. So, find out what the general standard in the market you are targeting is and look at how much more rent you could charge for going over and above the ‘norm’.

While you need to bear in mind the needs of your target market – for example whether you’re planning on renting to students, young professionals or families – the following tips will apply in most situations:

  • Opt for the same shade and brand of neutral paint in a satin and durable finish throughout the majority of the property. This will be more cost-effective and easier to touch up, clean and maintain than wallpaper or a variety of paint finishes, saving you time, effort and money. In the kitchen and bathroom, it’s advisable to use moisture and steam resistant paint.

  • Although wood or good quality laminate is easier to clean and maintain, tenants tend to prefer carpets in bedrooms. But choose one that won’t easily show dirt and go for decent quality as cheap carpets are unlikely to last in a rental property.  See this mydeposits article for lots of useful tips on the best flooring for landlords and tenants.

  • If you’re in a position to renovate the bathroom before renting out your property, it’s worth splashing out on good quality, plain white sanitaryware and investing in a good shower, which is a tenant must-have. Making sure the shower’s ‘working parts’ are accessible without taking off tiles can be helpful for future fixes. Fully tiling the walls and floor looks stylish and makes it easy to clean, or it might be worth investigating fitting panels. If you choose quality ones and have them expertly fitted, they can be cheaper and even easier to clean than tiles.

Bear in mind that you’re likely to need to reseal around sinks and shower trays and get rid of any mould in between tenancies.

  • In the kitchen, think first and foremost about practicality and go for good quality, hard wearing materials. Invest in sturdy base units, plain cupboard doors with strong soft-close hinges and counter tops that won’t show marks easily. Ideally, if you have a good base units, in the future you can just replace doors and work surfaces, rather than the whole kitchen. Avoid integrated appliances, which tend to be more expensive, as well as more of a hassle to fix.

  • Above all, don’t go overboard. You’re aiming for a clean and presentable property which will appeal to a broad range of tenants and will be easy to keep looking good without costing you a fortune.

The importance of cleaning your rental property

It’s important to set high standards when it comes to cleaning your property in preparation for renting it out. You’re more likely to attract decent tenants if your property is spotless, and tenants are more likely to respect and take pride in a clean home.

The tenant will need to make sure the property is handed back in the same condition at the end of the tenancy, with an allowance for normal ‘wear and tear’. So it’s worth putting in the time and effort at the start of the tenancy to present the property in the condition that you expect to find it at the end.

Remember to do an in depth inventory with both written descriptions and photos of the property. If you don’t have one, you will struggle to prove any damage when it comes to returning the deposit. This mydeposits article contains lots of useful information on how to make sure you have a robust inventory that safeguards the interests of both landlords and tenants.

Preparing the garden in a rental property

When preparing to rent out your home, it’s important to make sure the garden is neat, tidy and free from rubbish before your tenants move in – and a good-looking garden should help make your property appealing to tenants when you’re advertising.

Gardens are a common cause of dispute between landlords and tenants, so be sure to clarify expectations for garden maintenance right at the start in the tenancy agreement. Usually, the tenant is responsible for basic maintenance, such as weeding and mowing the lawn, and the landlord takes care of larger shrubs and trees.

To make life easier for both you and your tenants, design a low maintenance garden with slow growing, drought tolerant shrubs, combined with hard landscaping. And make sure that any gardening equipment you supply is in a good state of repair and stored in a locked outbuilding or shed.

Find out more in our guide, ‘How to manage garden maintenance in a rental property’.

The importance of preparing a tenant welcome pack

Putting together a comprehensive, detailed and well thought out welcome pack is one of the final stages in preparing your property to rent and an integral part of making a good first impression and developing a healthy relationship with your tenants.

The welcome pack should include:

  • Key legal and administrative documents, such as the tenancy agreement and the inventory
  • Copies of the current gas safety, electrical safety and energy performance certificates
  • Instruction manuals for any appliances you’ve provided
  • Emergency contact details
  • Housekeeping advice, such as how to prevent damp and mould and protect the property from damage

For more detailed information, check out our guide, ‘Why you need a tenant welcome pack and what you should include’ and if you’d like a hand getting started, our welcome pack template has everything you need.

You might also like to share our tenant advice series, which offers guidance to tenants on all sorts of issues that can affect properties.

Arranging landlord insurance

Last but certainly not least, when preparing to rent out your house you’ll need to arrange landlord insurance.

Although it’s not a legal requirement, conventional home insurance won’t cover you for the higher risks involved with buy to let, such as malicious damage or loss of rent. Mortgage lenders also usually ask landlords to take out a specialist insurance policy, so arranging landlord insurance is a vital  part of preparing to let a property.

Different types of landlord insurance cover different risks. To find out which landlord insurance cover is best for you, get in touch with the team at Total Landlord by calling 0800 63 43 880 or find out more here.

You may also like to read our article on how insurance can support landlords during the cost of living crisis.

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